Fixing The Fish Bowl

In keeping with the architecture and engineering firm’s practice of using the latest products, CSHQA solved a small meeting room’s acoustic and lighting issues with Focal Point’s Seem 1 Acoustic system.

CSHQA, a full-service architecture and engineering firm known for its focus on commercial, retail, and multi-family residential projects, set out to push the envelope when designing its new office, using it as a laboratory to showcase its capabilities and areas of expertise while incorporating the latest products and energy efficient designs. In an effort to reinvent and transform its brand, culture, and public perception, CSHQA renovated a former railway warehouse into its downtown Boise, ID office.

acoustic systemThe firm made the strategic design decision to locate all conference rooms near the front entrance of the office to spare clients from having to navigate through workstations and collaboration areas during visits. Set among the larger conference rooms is a small meeting room designed for quick huddles of four to six people or conference calls and video chats. Since its move into the office in 2013, the CSHQA team had struggled to find a solution for the echoing and reverberation issues in this small conference room.

According to Nicole Cecil, Interior Design Manager at CSHQA, the team made many attempts to resolve the acoustic problems over the years. They worked to add acoustical treatments, such as wall applications and carpet, to no avail. Other solutions explored were neither deemed not cost-effective nor would yield the desired impact.

The room is approximately 12 feet long and 10 feet wide, with a ceiling height of 12 feet to the exposed joists and wood decking. It also contains an angled entry portion with glass walls and large glass windows overlooking the outdoor patio that let in plenty of natural light. The only other additional light source was a small pendant suspended over the center of the four-foot, round conference table. The room, playfully referred to by the CSHQA team as “the fish bowl” for obvious reasons, was not being used to its full potential.

Reflecting on the usability of the space, Amy Dockter, Engineering Principal at CSHQA, stated: “It was just not a comfortable space to sit in and have a meeting with anybody inside or outside the office. It felt like you were in a well because the structure is so high and there is nothing in between it.”

Dockter also commented on the light level issues, saying: “Due to the light level it was not functional and effective. It was not enough light, not evenly distributed, and on top of all that it has noise issues.”

Her colleagues in the company’s California and Colorado offices all shared her sentiment that the room was uncomfortable, especially for those on the other end of a conference call or video meeting who were unable hear conversations clearly due to the extreme echoing.

A routine vendor visit provided the long-awaited answer to the acoustic and lighting dilemma the company had struggled to resolve. Remembering the experience, Dockter stated: “DMA Lighting showed my team of electrical engineers the new Seem 1 Acoustic luminaire and baffle system from Focal Point. They immediately notified me stating, ‘you’ve got to look at this’.”

Cecil was also involved in reviewing the new Focal Point product, recalling her immediate thoughts, “this would be a great application for the small conference room.”

Using the Seem 1 Acoustic luminaire and baffle system was an opportunity to tie in with CSHQA’s building model of creating a living laboratory and showplace for their clients to experience products firsthand, while also achieving their acoustic and lighting needs for the space. Members from CSHQA met with Focal Point’s Acoustic Solutions team to establish a strategy for the project.

It was determined that the contributing factors to the extreme echoing were the concrete floor, glass walls and windows, gypsum walls, hard table and chairs, and high, open wooden ceiling structure. The HVAC system was also identified as a noise generating source. To assist with the acoustic design, CSHQA hired a local acoustician to ascertain the reverberation time and provide recommendations for sound abatement.

Due to its small size, the room did not have enough volume to conduct a useful reverberation time (RT) analysis. Therefore, the acoustic consultant used the room conditions, including reflectivity of the exposed surfaces and total room volume, to calculate the current RT for the space. The current RT of the room was 1.1 seconds, well above the recommended 0.8 second target for conference rooms, supported by the WELL Building Standard.

Using the ASTM C423 test reports for Focal Point’s Seem 1 Acoustic baffles, the acoustician then calculated how much surface area coverage of 8′ long acoustical baffles was required to achieve the targeted 0.8 second RT. Based on the evaluation, Focal Point’s Acoustic Solutions team presented two options for designing with Seem 1 Acoustic that would achieve acoustic and light level requirements. The first option recommended 4 rows of 8′ long, 16″ high baffles with 24″ on-center spacing. The second option recommended a high-density array with 8 rows of 8′ long, 16″ high baffles with 12″ on-center spacing.

Ultimately, an array of four 8′ long and 16″ high baffles at 24″ on-center was selected, which matches the joist spacing. This option covered only 30% of the surface area, but still yielded an 0.8 second RT, meeting the ideal reverberation time of a conference room. The low-density array of baffles helped hide unsightly elements of the space, such as sprinkler pipes and junction boxes, while leaving the space feeling welcoming, open and airy. To aid in the acoustics further, the acoustician also suggested adding 1-inch thick fabric-wrapped panels on the art wall opposite to the window to help mitigate noise.

Based on lighting standards, the small room needed 30 to 40 foot candles to achieve optimal illumination levels. CSHQA opted to illuminate the two center baffles with a direct output of 500 lumens per foot at 3500K color temperature and leave the two remaining baffles unlit. The CSHQA team chose the Slate color for both the illuminated and non-illuminated baffles to coordinate with the existing color scheme.

As a testament to the effectiveness of the product, Dockter recruited an employee who was detached from the project to test the outcome and provide feedback. His response reassured Dockter and the CSHQA team that they had successfully resolved the reverberation issues, creating a usable space. Cecil agreed, stating there was definitely an improvement, the noise reduction and deadening of sound were very noticeable.

Further reflecting on the improvements aside from the reverberation and light levels, Dockter stated: “The fixtures lowered the ceiling plane to make it feel more like a room and less like a well while also keeping the open structure feel.”

Seem 1 Acoustic system was the long-awaited answer to the problematic small conference room, addressing the light levels and acoustic issues while also ensuring that the system integrated with the aesthetics of the space. The result is a now highly functional conference room that reflects CSHQA’s capabilities.

Watch the case study video here.